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Palestine is definitely a European issue

January 31, 2018 at 10:04 am

Demonstrators take part in a protest against Trump’s announcement on Jerusalem outside the US Embassy in London, England on 8 December 2017. [Ray Tang / Anadolu Agency]

Think tanks and commentators around the world have analysed and evaluated US President Donald Trump’s decision to accept Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and move the American Embassy from Tel Aviv. Their analysis has been exhaustive, and while roundly condemned by most countries, political observers and Middle East experts, it seems that only extreme right-wing groups have welcomed the controversial decision without question.

Arguably the most thought-provoking seminar on the topic was that hosted in London recently by EuroPal Forum called “Trump’s Jerusalem promise: Time for Europe to lead for peace in the Middle East”. Given that the whole Palestinian crisis was created right here in Europe, it’s only right that the historical errors and injustice should be corrected by Europeans. This time, though, discussions should be held in concert with those in the Arab and Muslim world who have the best interests of the Palestinian people at the heart of their proposals, starting with the Palestinians themselves, who have all too often been spectators while others decide and dictate their future.

Aside from the geopolitical role of Europe in the issue, Palestine has a Mediterranean coastline, as do a host of European countries. Fishermen from all of these lands seek a living from the same sea, but whereas those from Spain, France, Monaco, Italy, Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, Albania and Greece can do so with relative ease, the Palestinians risk being shot at, sunk or killed by the Israeli navy, which restricts their access to their own territorial waters.

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There would be international outrage if a foreign navy attacked fishing boats from Italy or Croatia as they cast their nets. Yet that is the daily reality for fishermen from Gaza who risk their lives whenever they try to make an honest living. It is long overdue, therefore, for Palestine to be considered a European issue.

The seminar was opened by Dr Daud Abdullah, Director of Middle East Monitor, who asked delegates to examine possible European roles. One of the speakers was international human rights lawyer Toby Cadman, who took an active role in the legal case against Israel’s deadly military assault on a humanitarian flotilla, including the Mavi Marmara, back in 2010.

The flotilla was bound for the Gaza Strip and sailing through the eastern Mediterranean, in international waters, when it was intercepted by Israeli commandos who attacked the passengers in a highly coordinated assault. Nine Turkish civilians were killed on the spot and another succumbed to his wounds later; scores more were seriously wounded.

The attack was a crime under international law, noted Cadman at the time. However, to date, Tel Aviv has never been held accountable by the international community. Had a similar attack been carried out in French, Spanish or Greek territorial waters, a trial of some sort would almost certainly have been done and dusted by now. When the victims are Palestinians, or citizens of states standing in solidarity with them, their status as the Other is made all too obvious; indeed, Palestinian lives do not matter as much as Europeans’.

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In a world becoming increasingly obsessed with equality and gender balance – and rightly so – it is appalling that the Palestinians are neither featured in campaigns nor treated equally. The apartheid system run within Israel and by Israel in the occupied Palestinian territories is apparently accepted as being both necessary and the norm by Western governments and public perceptions.

Israel flouted international law in the flotilla attack and ended up paying out millions in compensation to Turkey which was not prepared to sit by silently and so acted on behalf of the “Gaza Freedom Flotilla”, the collective name for the ships collected together by six organisations. The flotilla was a multinational coalition of the Free Gaza Movement, the Turkish Foundation for Human Rights, Freedoms and Humanitarian Relief (IHH), the European Campaign to end the siege of Gaza, Ship to Gaza-Greece, Ship to Gaza-Sweden, and the International Committee to end the siege of Gaza.

Gazans show solidarity with the Freedom Flotilla III by making sand sculptures. [file photo]

It is a pity that the legal proceedings in the Turkish courts were not allowed to take their full course. While Turkey adopted a pragmatic approach to the Israeli war crimes, justice has still not been served on the Zionist State which continues to violate international law with apparent impunity. Once again, the right for justice has been denied to the Palestinians who stood to benefit if the flotilla had been allowed to reach its destination.

At the EuroPal seminar, the Middle East peace talks were addressed by Dr Ghada Karmi, a Palestinian academic and writer who pointed out that the US is not an independent broker in the process. She suggested that the EU could play a role in this acceptable to both sides. Professor Kamel Hawwash from Birmingham University noted the importance of Europe’s rejection of Trump’s announcement about Jerusalem, but added that as it stands today the Palestinians are regarded as the weakest party.

The chair of EuroPal Forum, Zaher Birawi, said that it is time for the Palestinians to “think outside the fruitless negotiation box.” They must, he added, prepare to deal with Israel as an occupying state, which international law gives them the right to resist in order to restore their national rights.

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All of these speakers gave commendable arguments about the importance of Europe in the Palestine-Israel issue, but they all missed the point that the geography of the territory in question has shared characteristics with Europe. I believe that this makes the Palestinians and their issue very much a European issue.

Westerners with donor fatigue tend to lump the Middle East into a homogenous mass; politically it was, of course, before European colonialists drew lines in the sand 100 years ago and installed Arab despots in the newly-created capital cities. If they consider the role of Europe in the creation of the Palestinian crisis, and its proximity to European territory, perhaps those in the West might see the conflict in a very different light.

This strategic shift has been utilised very effectively by the Israelis and their supporters in Western capitals and media. The Palestinians have been “Othered” in the process. However, if Israel can be regarded as European when it comes to cultural and sporting events like the Eurovision Song Contest and football World Cup and European Championships, then why can’t Palestinians and their cause? Once that is taken on board – and logically it shouldn’t be difficult – then the next step has to be the EU stepping in as an honest broker and trying to right the undoubted wrongs that have been inflicted upon Palestine and its people.

It is not written in stone anywhere that the US has to have a monopoly on the peace process. Europe must stand up and be counted, and insist on taking over now that US duplicity has been exposed for all to see. Anything less, and the injustice looks set to continue for years to come.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.